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IRAQ Draft of constitution delivered



Published: Tue, August 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Sunnis say they will vote against the document if their needs are not met.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi political leaders delivered an incomplete draft of a new constitution to the National Assembly moments before a midnight deadline Monday and gave the parliament three more days to resolve the remaining disagreements before voting on the document.

Shiite Muslim and Kurdish leaders, fed up with weeks of haggling over key issues such as the powers of the central government and the role of Islam, pushed the draft forward over the objections of Sunni Arab politicians.

The move was a gamble for the Shiites and Kurds, who risk further isolating the disaffected Sunni minority, which forms the backbone of an insurgency that has killed thousands.

Sunni leaders, who participated in negotiations despite death threats from the insurgents, already have warned the government that their constituents would mobilize to vote against the draft this fall unless their concerns are addressed. Under the nation's interim law, if two-thirds of voters in three provinces vote against the constitution, the National Assembly will be dissolved and the process will begin anew.

Grim prediction

Sunnis are banking on being able to find those votes in the Sunni heartland of Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninevah provinces.

"The Iraqi people will be very pessimistic about what's happening, and I tell you this constitution will not pass," said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni negotiator. "If it passes, the street will up-rise. And if it does not pass, it means we will go for another transitional government, which is very bad."

Sami al-Askeri, a Shiite member of the constitutional drafting committee, scoffed at such a scenario.

"There is no concern. Some of the Sunnis are, of course, unhappy with the draft," he said in a phone interview. "But they only have Anbar ... the majority [in the other two provinces] are not Sunnis. Most of them are Kurds and Shiites. They cannot manage to get the vote."

The White House issued a statement praising submission of the document.

"We welcome today's development as another step forward in Iraq's constitutional process," the statement said. "The progress made over the past week has been impressive, with consensus reached on most provisions through debate, dialogue, and compromise."

Several sticking points

Monday was the amended deadline for a draft constitution after members of the drafting committee -- entangled in heated debates over Kurdish demands for a secession clause, Shiite demands for a bigger role for Islam, and Sunni Arab concerns over the distribution of Iraq's oil revenues -- missed the original deadline a week ago.

"Believe me, there are at least 20 issues to be discussed now," al-Mutlaq said. "Frankly speaking, I don't trust them any more," he said of the other negotiators.

With talks still at a stalemate on many issues, the drafting committee decided to send the sticking points to the Iraqi National Assembly to settle. The 275-member legislature, dominated by Shiites and Kurds, is expected to vote on a draft within three days.

The U.S. military said two U.S. soldiers from Task Force Liberty were killed Monday by a roadside bomb during a combat patrol north of Baghdad, and two more soldiers died Sunday when their vehicle overturned during a military operation near Tal Afar. At least 1,870 U.S. troops have died since the Iraq war started in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.




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